Sunday, January 31, 2021

Winter Bird


I saw this northern mockingbird in a cold winter field the other day. It didn't sing a single note which seemed appropriate to the background. Mockingbirds are remarkably vocal at other times of year. They typically sing from February through the summer and again in autumn. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that males may have different sets of songs for spring and fall. The sighting reminded me of the poem, below.

Looking For a Sunset Bird in Winter  

by Robert Frost 

The west was getting out of gold, 
The breath of air had died of cold,  
When shoeing home across the white,  
I thought I saw a bird alight. 
In summer when I passed the place 
I had to stop and lift my face;
A bird with an angelic gift
Was singing in it sweet and swift.
No bird was singing in it now.
A single leaf was on the bough,
And that was all there was to see
In going twice around the tree. 
From my advantage on the hill
I judged that such a crystal chill
Was only adding frost to snow
As gilt to gold that wouldn't show.
A brush had left a crooked stroke 
Of what was either cloud or smoke
From north to south across the blue;
A piercing little star was through. 


I'm looking forward to the return of the mockingbird's song. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Burns Day!


Tomorrow is Burns Day. That's the day when poetry enthusiasts around the world celebrate the national poet of Scotland, Robert Burns. Celebrants everywhere gather on the evening of January 25th for Burns Night dinners that feature whiskey toasts, traditional Scottish foods, and readings of Burns poems such as "O My luve is like a red red rose..."

This statue is on the elm-shaded Literary Walk in Central Park in New York City. Below is a very restrained list of some fragments of famous Burns poems, ending with my favorite.

"The best laid schemes o' Mice and Men,

Gang aft agley. 

And lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,

For promis'd joy!"...


"O, wad some Power the gifte gie us

To see ourselves as others see us!

It wad frae monie a blunder free us, 

An' foolish notion."  ...


"And man, whose heav'n-erected face

The smiles of love adorn

Man's inhumanity to man

Makes countless thousands mourn!" ...


"My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here;

My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;

A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,

My heart's in the Highlands wherever I go." ...


Heather! Get your whiskey out! Click on the photos to enlarge.

Sunday, January 17, 2021



I saw my first snowdrop of the year this week. I know it is still far off, but this is the first sign that spring is coming. Easy to see why the snowdrop is a symbol of hope.

Snowdrops have special adaptations that allow them to bloom in January. They produce proteins that act like biological antifreeze to keep their sap from freezing. They have strong leaf tips that let them push up through frozen soil and snow. They usually reproduce asexually from bulbs dividing underground.

This picture is from a warm day in a previous winter. Bees pollinate snowdrops when they can. Obviously there are not a lot of bees volunteering to do so in January, but enough that sometimes the plants reproduce sexually. Snowdrop seeds have a little ant-attracting substance attached and consequently get carried away and essentially planted by ants that eat the ant reward and leave the seed.

The genus name of snowdrops is Galanthus. From that we get a word for snowdrop enthusiasts like me -- Galantophiles. Click to enlarge.

Here is a famous poem from fellow Galantophile, William Wordsworth:

To A Snowdrop

Lone flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they

But hardier far, once more I see thee bend

Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend, 

Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day, 

Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay

The rising sun, and on the plains descend;

Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend

Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May

Shall soon behold this border thickly set 

With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing

On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;

Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,

Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring, 

And pensive monitor of fleeting years! 

More coming!

Sunday, January 10, 2021



Local lakes are freezing and the winter already seems long.

Here's an apt haiku from 17th century poet Matsuo Basho: 

Winter solitude -- 

in a world of one color 

the sound of the wind.

Patterns in the ice. Click to enlarge.


Sunday, January 3, 2021

Creature of the Year Award

Competition was stiff for the 2020 Urban Wildlife Guide Creature of the Year Award. Congratulations to Turkey Vulture for first prize! It's not all about looks -- the vulture scored high on design. Visit the June 28 2020 blog by clicking here to read its story.

In the event that the vulture is unable to fulfill duties as Creature of the Year, the first runner up Raccoon Family will step in. See more in the August 9 blog by clicking here.

Happy New Year! Click me.